In 1978, Patrick Malahide had a small but interesting role in the BBC series “Wings“, a World War I drama about Royal Flying Corps pilots stationed in France. I had no idea what to expect since I’d never heard of this series apart from the minimal information available on IMDB, but I admit I had hopes of seeing Mr. Malahide in a WWI-vintage RFC uniform, perhaps even wearing helmet and goggles and flying a biplane. Alas, it was not to be. But what I got instead was still pretty good.
“Another Country” begins with Captain Owen Triggers (Nicholas Jones, who much to my surprise and amazement also played Roger Dorkins in the series “Sensitive Skin” – more on that later) receiving orders to transport a French spy, “M. Boissier”, over enemy lines into French territory so he can begin his work. Triggers (that name made me snicker just a bit every time I heard it) has definite opinions and decries spying as “not very British” even as he corrects Sergeant Mills’ (Roger Elliott) pronunciation of the spy’s name. His day is further complicated by the arrival of replacement pilot Lieutenant Michael Starling (Michael Jayes) in civilian clothes and without his aeroplane. Starling is an Oxford grad who instantly comes across as a bit of a prat; he might be great with theoretical things but he isn’t so good with the practical, like… remembering where he parked his B.E.2c after a night on the town. Triggers tells Starling that he’s “willing to tolerate a certain amount of donnish eccentricity”, but nonetheless brusquely sends Starling to go fetch his plane (which has luckily turned up at a nearby airfield), “on [his] hands and knees if necessary”, and report back to him as soon as possible.
Transporting a Spy Behind the Lines
Meanwhile, M. Boissier arrives… and turns out to be Madame Anne Boissier (Jane Lapotaire), not Monsieur. Triggers is shocked by the idea of a lady spy and stops just short of refusing to transport her, describing her assignment as a “monstrous proposition” and a “distasteful mission”. Belatedly remembering his manners, he does reluctantly invite Mme. Boissier to dinner in the mess that evening where she’s a great hit with all of the men except Triggers, who is still frosty towards her (do I sense a love interest in the making??). Starling even makes what’s surely the earliest use of the hoariest pick-up line ever (“What’s your birth sign? Aquarius?”), although it seems he’s asking just because he’s a weird Oxford don rather than on the make. The next morning, Mme. Boissier and Triggers (wearing gorgeous, full-length leather flying dusters – seriously, whoever arranged the wardrobe for this show did a great job) leave at first light as the rest of the pilots look on.
Capture and Court Martial
However, the flight is cut short when their engine is damaged by flak and Triggers is forced to land the plane three miles short of their destination. They take shelter with a village curé (André Maranne) while they plan their respective escapes: Mme. Boissier further into enemy territory to begin her espionage work, and Triggers back to ‘C’ Flight as soon as he possibly can. Triggers goes to check on his plane and arrives just in time to see Starling flying by and thoughtfully destroying it with a Very flare as per procedure, after failing to consider that Triggers might have needed that plane to, oh… escape enemy territory or something like that (see? he’s a prat). The burning plane is quickly discovered by the Germans, tipping them off that a British flyer is in the vicinity and causing them to intensify their search efforts. Before Triggers can begin to formulate a Plan “B” (or maybe “D” by this point), he and Mme. Boissier are betrayed to the Germans by a villager and hauled before a hastily convened field court martial on charges of espionage.
An Eager, Young Prosecuting Officer
Luckily for all concerned (and the audience), the commanding officer (Harry Brooks) decides to conduct the proceedings in English so the accused will know what’s going on. Neither he nor Malahide’s prosecuting officer ever gets a name; the latter is called simply “Prosecuting Officer”. This makes it nice and simple in the credits, I suppose, but it seems rather impersonal, so maybe we could nickname him “Fritz”, “Werner”, or “Kurt” for our purposes. Kurt has probably rarely been handed such an easy case. Triggers doesn’t deny that he’s British, but he does claim that he and Mme. Boissier were on a mission behind their own lines when his navigation went horribly awry – unfortunately he can’t blame it on faulty GPS or inexperience (mind you, I’d find it very easy to believe if Roger Dorkins was the pilot). Triggers further claims that the reason he’s in civilian clothing is because their mission was “diplomatic” rather than military, and that they intended to return to friendly territory as soon as they were finished (yeah, right). It’s a thin excuse and there’s no way he can make it sound even barely plausible.
Kurt responds to the diplomacy alibi by quoting some Bismarck (“War is an extension of diplomacy by other methods”) in an attempt at showing off, but the court is unimpressed with the prospect of “exploring [his] fund of folklore” (suddenly I was reminded of Chisholm testifying in court for some reason). Then there’s a short conversation in German amongst the officers (I have no idea what was being said but it certainly sounded to me like Mr. Malahide speaks fluently, with a native accent – I was very impressed) before Kurt sums up his case. He declares that Triggers and Mme. Boissier have utterly failed to explain their presence or give any believable alternative. Furthermore, while fixing Mme. Boissier with a cold, level stare, he states that “[e]spionage is not only against the rules of war… it is a particularly vicious, insidious, and distasteful attack that no civilized country can tolerate, and never has”, before requesting the death penalty for both of them.
The court deliberates for a short time before returning its verdict: both Triggers and Mme. Boissier are sentenced to death by firing squad the following morning. In a last-ditch plea, Mme. Boissier attempts to protect Triggers by urging the Germans to find his discarded uniform at the curé’s home; if Triggers can prove he’s an English officer, he’ll only be imprisoned in a P.O.W. camp for the rest of the war rather than lined up against a wall and shot. However, the Germans declare the case closed and an irritated Kurt uses the occasion to chastise Triggers and Mme. Boissier for leaving them “no alternative”, which I’m sure made them feel much better. Things are looking very grim indeed!
An Enjoyable Episode with Bonus Coincidences
Rather than get too spoilery, I’ll leave it to the reader to discover what becomes of Triggers and Mme. Boissier in the rest of the episode (hint: “Wings” had ten more episodes to run in this season), though I will say that I found the conclusion somewhat surprising. I thought it was coincidentally amusing that Patrick Malahide, who would vigorously defend Roger Dorkins as lawyer Lennie Richards in “Sensitive Skin”, is here assigned to prosecute him. Okay, okay, totally different circumstances, but it’s still amusing, especially when you consider that there were probably times when Lennie would have really liked to have Roger taken out and shot, or at least quietly disposed of. But I was very pleasantly surprised by Mr. Jones’ performance, even though I didn’t recognize him until I checked the credits in IMDB. Triggers is vastly different from Roger Dorkins; he’s a very strong if moody and somewhat cynical character while Roger is more happy-go-lucky and feckless.
As brief as it was, I really enjoyed this early role of Mr. Malahide’s. He made a very attractive Hun officer (I felt so conflicted!) and looked every inch the part in uniform, especially his bearing and vocal characterization. I wished we could have seen a lot more of him; he made a very able foe for
Roger Triggers to take on – apparently a little too able. The other characters had interesting writing and good characterization going on as well; I’d be intrigued to see the rest of this series, which could be a little easier to find now that the BBC has released the entire thing on Region 2 DVD. I appreciated the attention to detail in wardrobe, settings, props, and set decoration on what was obviously a rather tight budget. I discovered just how tight when I looked up what sort of planes were used in the production and discovered that due to the unavailability of airworthy B.E.2cs (not surprising, and what museum would want theirs pranged by a film crew), most of the flying scenes were filmed using radio-controlled models.
You can view a clip of Patrick Malahide’s performance in “Wings” – “Another Country” below, courtesy of Admin (thanks! 🙂 ) or scroll down for a gallery.